A Review of Tomaž Šalamun’s ‘On the Tracks of Wild Game’

- December 18, 2012

"Tomaž Šalamun’s work is a dark, surrealistic trek into the thoughts of an artist."

Pages with poetry tucked into its corners, giving a glimpse into a mind at work. The white on the page chases four lines in "Good Day, Iztok":

Heavenly shepherds,
young men on earth,
where did your women hide,
as you fled into this tree?

Tomaž Šalamun’s work is a dark, surrealistic trek into the thoughts of an artist. Slipping from incantatory passages and affirmations into bizarre abstractions and conduits into the subconscious, Šalamun navigates the craft of poetry via pure intuition, yet his work gives the reader pause. It is impossible to gloss over passages such as the following from “Son”:

Killing sounds
authentic, love—less authentic.
Flowers don’t smell
authentic, but good.
Killing smells good.
Flowers smell good, red, black, and

More grounded writing such as the line, “A surge in the scent of daffodils” from  the poem “Good Day, Iztok” juxtaposes with the grisly “Give me your skin, I said to him. And I sucked up/his marrow so that only the devil/was left of him” of “Son".

Šalamun admits he knows nothing of the techniques underlying poetry, but describes his ravenous consumption of work from the poets who influenced him. In this method, as others have done before him, Šalamun apprenticed himself under the work of his predecessors and cultivated his own voice—a voice he carries into his readings.

Perhaps Šalamun is trying to escape the apparitions conjured by his poetry, but he frantically rushes through his work. Šalamun chooses a few poems to read in English and then reread in the original Slovenian. These moments elevate the reading from others, as hearing a poem in the poet’s mother tongue is a purely sonic experience.

After his hypnotic reading, Šalamun said, “Between ‘you can’ and ‘you cannot’ is art.”

When asked about his writing process and how he comes to his ideas, Šalamun said, “When I write I’m not in my mind–I’m out of my mind.” It can be a frustrating process. Šalamun recollects a five-year period where he simply could not write. A time during the Balkan War when his work weighed on him and inspiration fled. He wonders if his work contributed to the dark mood of that period—then distracts himself—moving on to another subject. His fleeting, scattered thoughts are reminiscent of his poetry—glimpses of the past lost to the procession of time.

On the Tracks of Wild Game, the latest collection of Šalamun’s poetry, translated into English by Sonja Kravanja, is available now from Ugly Duckling Presse.